Translation for subtitling - Analysis of the subtitling into Italian of the Netflix television series "La casa de papel"

Translation for subtitling

Bologna, Martina Bandini - For a translator, the complexity of audiovisual translation (AVT) lies in the fact of dealing with dynamic texts, which are constructed both through written and oral language, as well as verbal and non-verbal codes.

Therefore, images impose on translation not purely linguistic limitations - those of time and space - which must be complied with in order to guarantee a reliable product, well made and that transmits the message effectively in the target language. .

In fact, when subtitling a film or television series, each translator is obliged to make decisions that directly affect his text, but that have nothing to do with the criteria of the language.

For this reason, when the object of the translation is audiovisual in nature, it is always necessary to take into account not only linguistic, but also technical standards, which to a certain extent depend on the company that distributes the content. This was the objective of the research, written to present my Final Master's work at the University of Bologna (Faculty of Language, Society and Communication), that is, to analyze the translation for the subtitling of the first chapters of the television series Spanish of Netflix "La casa de papel", both from a linguistic and technical point of view, to evaluate the translation in a certain way and then see how the application of one or the other rules influence the perception of the program by the public.

In this article, written specifically for the purpose of publication on The Language Sector website, the work will be presented in a summarized and more general way, but it is available (including its bibliography) in full version for those who request it.


The subtitling rules proposed by Netflix

As for the subtitling technique, Netflix provides its translators with a series of rules to follow when subtitling a show. On the one hand, general rules are provided, and on the other, specific requirements that depend on the language into which the content will be translated.

Therefore, any text created specifically for Netflix must follow these rules. Analyzing the guidelines that Netflix requires, we first notice some substantial differences with respect to the subtitling rules conventionally approved by research in this discipline.

These inequalities mainly concern the duration of the subtitles, the reading speed and the maximum number of characters that each line can contain.

Calculating that the average and theoretically adequate speed for a heterogeneous audience is between 12 and 14 characters per second (CPS), the minimum and maximum duration of the subtitles have been conventionally established at 1 and 6 seconds respectively, with a maximum number of 35 characters per line. In the case of Netflix, the rules provide for a shorter minimum duration, of five sixths of a second per subtitle, or 0.833 tenths of a second, and a longer maximum duration of 7 seconds, with a higher character limit of 42 per line. Also the maximum reading speed that Netflix accepts, of 17 CPS, is higher than what is conventionally considered adequate for a heterogeneous adult audience.

The application of these rules has different consequences, related both to the creation of subtitles by the translator, and to the impact that these will have on the viewer.

Study methodology

To study the application of Netflix standards, the differences with the traditional standards and their implications for the public, firstly, the study corpus was built, comprising all the original dialogues and the subtitles of both episodes, which were transcribed and collected in comparative tables of the two versions.

Then, and since one of the objectives of the work was to provide an evaluation of the translation, the commentary began by treating the most interesting aspects of the linguistic point of view, such as the transposition of cultural references, colloquialisms, dysphemisms and idiomatic expressions, and there the subtitling technique was observed in its practical application, since in order to correctly understand a linguistic solution in this modality of TAV it is always necessary to observe the technical limitations that condition it.

This type of study then even allowed us to compare the standards used by Netflix with the conventional subtitling rules, to later draw personal conclusions on the matter, which, it can be said, do not favor Netflix standards.

Analysis results

Regarding the results of the linguistic analysis, in the translation of the cultural references, some main trends were noted: the use of a cultural equivalent, when it exists and is appropriate to the type of discourse, the use of amplification and generalization to explain specific elements of the culture of departure, and the foreignization that, however, worked only when the realia it was sufficiently known in the target culture.

In the translation of colloquial language and dysphemisms, a tendency towards the standardization of language has been noted mainly, motivated by the change in the communication channel and the space-time restrictions to which the text must be subjected, or even by the absence of a term corresponding in the target language.

Regarding idiomatic expressions, the tendency was to look for the equivalent in the target language.

In the translation of the anthroponyms, the rules were respected with some exceptions, which derived from errors of understanding, attention or lack of time available to review the text.

The same motivates typographical and meaning errors, and in these cases some translation proposals were also presented that could facilitate understanding for the public and respect the technique.

Regarding this, it was observed that the type of translation that is presented to the public depends to a large extent on the standards that are applied.

In the first place, the fact of being able to add a maximum of 42 characters per line and of taking into account a wider reading speed with respect to what is traditionally proposed by students of the subject implies being able to insert a higher amount of information in each subtitle, which in turn means less need to condense information.

If, on the one hand, this facilitates the work of the translator, on the other it complicates the view for the viewer, firstly because increasing the number of characters per line means that the size of the letter has to be reduced so that the text fits in the screen, which means less reading comfort and then a slowdown in the speed with which the public can read the subtitles.

In turn, this contrasts with the reading speed imposed by Netflix, which in most subtitles is still higher than traditionally established. For this reason, in many cases it is difficult for viewers to follow, process and understand all the information that is included in the subtitles.

In addition, it was observed that sometimes, when setting the subtitles, the maximum reading speed required by Netflix was even exceeded, and in some cases the minimum distance between subtitles and those relating to plane changes were not respected.

In some cases it was noticed that the subtitler superimposed some subtitles between one shot and another when a different segmentation could have been chosen that did not imply skipping the shot, and this is a fact that makes it difficult for the viewer to read.

However, it must also be said that sometimes the subtitler decided, appropriately, to postpone subtitles a bit to avoid this type of problem.

In addition, the fact that a subtitle can have a minimum duration of less than one second continues to facilitate the translator's work, since there is less possibility that he will have to evaluate whether or not to skip the changes of plane and how to manage the question of the subtitle division. However, this does not take into account the fact that subtitles that are 0.840 seconds long could be perceived as a flash on the screen, without giving the viewer's brain and eye the chance to capture the information conveyed and pay attention to a new subtitle. Although the percentage of subtitles with a duration of less than one second is not high, it would have been appropriate to find different solutions to keep the minimum duration of the subtitle at one second.


To conclude, it could be said that, although linguistic and technical inaccuracies have been found, they do not prevent the reader from following the thread of the story.

However, for those who know the language quite well and at the same time want to keep the Italian subtitles on, some wrong language choices could cause weirdness.

As regards the technical standards applied by Netflix, it can be said that these are more focused on facilitating the work of the translator so that he can respect the short delivery times of the producer.

Unfortunately, giving subtitlers little time to translate series chapters affects the translation and the audience's experience: if subtitles must be created in the shortest time possible, you will inevitably not be able to present a job well done and properly reviewed. It is probably for this reason that in the two episodes analyzed some debatable solutions appear, both linguistic and technical.

It would therefore be more appropriate, on the one hand, to use more inclusive subtitling standards, which allow a wider audience - including also the most inexperienced readers - to enjoy the audiovisual product, and on the other, to give translators more time to They can present well-supervised work and make the audience's experience enjoyable.

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Author: Martina Bandini

Machine translation: SDL Machine Translation (previously SDL BeGlobal)

Post-editing: No post-editing

Source language: español (es)

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